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Nice Fornication Print E-mail
By Anthony Esolen   
Wednesday, 03 August 2011

The case against the sexual revolution can be clinched if we can show that the most natural and pleasant and “responsible” form of sexual intercourse outside of marriage is still deeply disordered and destructive. I’ll call it the case of the Nice Fornicators.

Nice Fornicators do not find themselves in bed with someone they do not know. They have moral standards. Nice Fornicators will only go to bed with someone they love. What this means is never entirely clear. Some Nice Fornicators mean, “I will have sexual intercourse only with someone I intend to marry, and who intends to marry me.” Other NF’s mean, “I will sleep only with someone I am in love with, and whom I might well marry.”  Others mean, “I will sleep only with someone I am committed to, for the foreseeable future.”  Still others mean, “I will sleep only with someone whom I care for, deeply.”

Nice Fornicators get to know one another’s families. They practice contraception, because they know, though they won’t examine the contradiction, that it is not right to bring children into the world without a mother and father bound to one another forever. Nice Fornicators believe in divorce, as a fail-safe, for other people. Nice Fornicators in part justify what they are doing precisely because they do not want to court the possibility of divorce. They feel that it is most responsible to pretend to be married before they marry, to see whether it works out. It is a kind of commitment with reservations.

Nice Fornicators don’t use pornography. They practice sodomy, but more because everyone does than because they enjoy the aberrance. Nice Fornicators are clean cut, and only rarely utter obscenities. The Nicest of Fornicators attend church together. They believe, and they are not entirely wrong, that God has given them to one another. They do not despise holiness. They genuinely want what they are doing to be blessed.

Had they been born a century ago, Nice Fornicators would most likely have approached the altar as virgins – man and woman both. They believe in the Ten Commandments, but they have been taught that one of those commandments no longer applies in the modern world, at least not in the way it used to.

David Sees Bath-Sheba Bathing (James Tissot, c. 1898)

Nice Fornicators do not wish to use one another as mere instruments of sensual pleasure. Their relationships are marked by a great degree of kindness and self-sacrifice. That is, if one abstracts from the whole situation the actions that have nothing directly to do with the fornication itself, one finds much to admire in their personalities and habits. The “wife” may cook hearty meals for the “husband,” and the “husband” bring flowers home for the “wife.” They may celebrate “anniversaries,” marked from the day they first met one another. They find “cheating” to be an outrage. They are often incorrigibly sentimental, in an amiable way. They are happy to be in one another’s company, and others enjoy their company too.

Nice Fornicators are not what most people would call selfish. They will volunteer at the soup kitchen, or coach a Little League team. They make pleasant youth ministers in liberal churches, or daycare workers, because they genuinely like children, and will – not now, but eventually – want to have a few of their own.

Nice Fornicators are respectable people. Indeed, in this regard they resemble “decent” upper class men of previous generations who would keep a discreet mistress on the side, and the wives who would tacitly allow it. So long as everyone understood what was going on, and the husband continued to support his wife and children, everything would be all right. But the husband who bedded down with the wife’s chambermaid, or the wife who took her footman to bed while her husband was away, were despised. One must abide by the “rules.” 

These “rules” have nothing to do with holiness, but rather with social savoir-faire. The upper-class adulterer would have been indignant if someone had accused him of a terrible indiscretion – say, frequenting the brothels, ridden with venereal disease. So too the Nice Fornicators are scandalized by what just should not be done: engaging in orgies, public nudity, “cheating,” and so forth. The Rule of the Movable Line applies here. That is, the Line dividing what is sexually licit from what is illicit is always placed one or two steps below whatever one is doing at the time.

The most scrupulous of the Nice Fornicators, whose consciences are not quite clear, put it this way: “My sexual sin is pardonable, but what those other people are doing is a different matter.”  For Nice Fornicators preserve the categories of lecher and tramp. The existence of such people is not in dispute. The definitions are.

Now then, if Nice Fornication is wrong, then a fortiori the whole sexual revolution falls. I will show, in further installments: first, that it is wrong in itself; then, that it hurts the people who engage in it, and finally that it hurts others. It rends the fabric of society, and any Catholic who actually knows what the Church’s social teachings are must reject it.

 
Anthony Esolen is a lecturer, translator, and writer. His latest book is Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child. He teaches at Providence College. 
 
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Comments (25)Add Comment
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written by Thomas C. Coleman, Jr., August 03, 2011
Bravo, Dr. Esolen! Finally someone has spotted the thief at the banquet who is brazenly stealing all the silver while everyone ignores him. Yes, there was time when one would not be thought mad for pointing out that any man who says he loves his mistress is a liar becuase no one leads someone he loves into moral sin. Instead we are told, even from the pulpit, that the only mortal sin is voting against pro-aborts who purport love poor. Yes, indeed NC's practice contraception, believing that it is thier duty to limit population growth and oblivious to the mutual degradation they perpetrate. Sexual nihilism is nihilism, and many self-identified Catholics agree with the Presdient whom they elected that whom one "loves" does not mattter. Again thank ou Dr. Esolen. I look forward to your further remraks on this serious matter.
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written by Howard Kainz, August 03, 2011
This reminds me of an ethics class I taught once, when I wasn't sure if all the students knew what "adultery" meant. So I took a poll, and found out a common definition was "cheating on your girlfriend."
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written by Thomas C. Coleman, Jr., August 03, 2011
Please, somebody tell me that I'm wrong for suspecting that the reason that Dr. Esolen's column has provoked so little response is that he had the courage to support the Church's teaching on contraception. I fear that the notion that Catholics are free to reject the Chruc's teaching is widely accpeted that many readers were put off by hearing the truth. I would not have such an impression if I had not hear CCD teachers and Lay Eucharistic Minsters boast at parish social events of what they had done to ensure their future infertility. Please tell me it's not so, what I suspect about the thin response.
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written by Kevin, August 03, 2011
Thomas, I understand your concern, but I don't think his columns provoke so little response due to his position on contraception. Unfortunately, he just isn't widely known yet, and I think people just automatically pass him over. He's a gem, though, and I recommend him to anyone I think might appreciate him.
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written by Teresa, August 03, 2011
I never pass over one of his columns if I can help it! Perhaps the low response is due to sadness and shame. Thanks, Dr. Esolen, for more to contemplate.
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written by TeaPot562, August 03, 2011
Sex w/o marriage strongly implies no desire for children. We have eaten from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil; and our choice (as a nationwide community) to become the contraceptive generation means, among other things, that from the 1970s on, we are having TOO FEW CHILDREN to keep the Social Security program going. A program where the wage-earners pay a tax to support the retirees needs at least three wage earners per retiree. The baby-boomers as a group chose to have too few children to keep the program going. Medical & pharmaceutical developments keep extending the life expectancy for US residents.
God doesn't have to punish us in this world for our inability to foresee consequences of our sins; the failures of government pension programs will fall upon us in an actuarial avalanche. Work until age 75, or age 80; the Social Security program won't be there.
TeaPot562
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written by Gary Ney, August 03, 2011
I believe that the majority of people who use artificial contraception don't use it for limiting population, but rather, limiting their access to pleasureable sex as often and as long as they want it. Getting pregnant gets in the way of their desires. Put another way, they are selfish.
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written by Patrick, August 03, 2011
Thomas Coleman: I didn't originally post any comments on this article because I completely agreed with it and didn't feel I had anything to add, and, I suppose, was too lazy to make a comment which simply stated my agreement. I think most of the time an article gets the most comments when it is controversial. It seems to me people are more likely to want to correct something they disagree with than to just say, "I agree."
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written by jason taylor, August 03, 2011
"I believe that the majority of people who use artificial contraception don't use it for limiting population, but rather, limiting their access to pleasureable sex as often and as long as they want it. Getting pregnant gets in the way of their desires. Put another way, they are selfish. "

That is a circular argument. If a pleasure is licit, seeking it is not wrong. Using contraception to make sexual pleasure for yourself easier would be no more "selfish" then using a fork to make gastronomical pleasure easier is "selfish". Unless there is something about the contraception that is sinful in itself. Which is true under Catholic doctrine. However it is not supported by the argument given.
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written by Mark, August 04, 2011
Jason: Your comparison between contraception and a fork used for eating doesn't work. A fork doesn't prevent the act of eating from accomplishing its natural end of providing nutrition for the body. Now, it one were to swallow a sort of esophagus condom to catch the food after it was chewed and swallowed so that the masticated food could then be pulled back out of the body and flushed away, you'd have a better comparison.
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written by chionactis, August 04, 2011
I was a NF for all of my 20's - and everything in this article - I applaud, b/c it is true. What I chose to do with each and every man I was in a relationship with (over 11 men in total) - was b/c I was "in love" and heck - everyone doing it. At this time, I was going to Mass and taking communion, too. I didn't see it as a sin, b/c I was "in love." Sex before marriage messed me up about true intimacy, the real union of husband and wife. I thank the Lord for having mercy on me to see the truth, and He expects great things from my husband and I, having five daughters who will also be put to the test as they approach their teens. Thank you for this terrific article!
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written by Gary Ney, August 04, 2011
Ok Jason, then please how do you define an unwanted pregnancy. And while you are at it, please define the term "risk of of pregnancy" used by many who support artificial contraception and abortion. What you do when you use artificial contraception is eliminate God from the process, thus playing God yourself. Sex is God given by its nature, yes it is pleasureable, that was intended, but what wasn't intended is to live for the sexual expierence, which so many do, which is my point. Living for the flesh brings you nothing but carnal pleasure, where as, living for our True Nature, to be like Christ, brings us closer to our creator, and our Creator wants us to create and procreate. Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, and nothing violates our bodies more than stopping the natural functions of the body, thus sinning against God and the Holy Spirit.
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written by jason taylor, August 04, 2011
Mark, you have just described chewing gum.

Gary, the point was not in objecting to the conclusion but in saying that you have assumed it before you got there. A licitly obtained pleasure is not selfish in itself. I am not arguing that contraception is permissible. I am arguing that you have not demonstrated that it is so. Rather you have assumed it is wrong from the beginning.
Now sometimes you have to say "It is wrong because it is wrong." Or, "It is wrong because the Church said so". Accepting intuition and sometimes authority is necessary at times. But saying, "It is wrong because it is wrong", in two different ways doesn't make your statement an argument.
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written by jason taylor, August 04, 2011
Gary, one can be skeptical about an argument without positing a disagreement or even any opinion at all about the conclusion. If you say 2+2=4 because rabbits are white, I would disagree. That is not the reason 2+2=4.

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written by Gary Ney, August 04, 2011
Yes Jason that is true, I did and do accept it as being wrong from the outset, maybe it was how things were when I was a child and to some extent it is because of knowing that for 1000's of years the was no real sort of artificial contraception, although I concede there were some primitive methods used along the way, but the pill changed everything. To me, it is no coincidence that with the advent of the pill, promiscuity has escalated to epidemic porportions, the teens have suffered greatly as a result of this, STD's has also dramaticlly increased year after year, marriage has taken a backseat to cohabitation, divorce's have escalated, infidelity has been a chief componet to divorce, why? No consequence sex, pure and simple. And let us not forget abortion, there are direct correlations between the pill and abortion. The moral decline of America can easily be traced back to the invention, then legalization of the pill.
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written by Larry Reynolds, August 04, 2011
1st, let me say that I'm not catholic, however this article perfectly describes my sexual attitudes up to the point I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. I wish I had read (and STUDIED it) before my 1st time, but it seems that every one is going directly to "contraception" when I thought the article was about fornication. Personally, I believe that a contraceptive that "prevents" the fertilization of the egg to be permissible, but ANYTHING artificial that KILLS the now conceived child to be nothing less than murder. But the issue is about sex outside of marriage, remove the "nice" from the "relationship" and call sin "sin". As Scripture says, (to paraphrase) confront those living in sin, (sex, lies,stealing, etc.) with love and compassion and bring them back to fellowship with Me (Jesus). really looking forward to the next article, great job, God bless
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written by TW, August 05, 2011
Larry, I understand the Church's teaching on contraception to mean that I am imposing my own will before God's were I to participate in the act of procreation, yet refuse God the possibility of another soul to give Him glory. That means I am not really trusting God.
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written by Kaydee, August 05, 2011
WOW!! Excellent article. I left the Church in my early 20's for many reasons. After 15 years, I joined an Episcopal Church for 7 years, and found my way back to Catholicism in the last 2 years. It is wonderful to "come home" and it's unfortunate that what I know now I did not know then. I never really knew the "what and why" of Catholic doctrine, and wish that I had been fully immersed in the teachings of the Church as a child and young adult. This article should be published in every Catholic newspaper in my humble opinion. Thank you for having the courage to write such a powerful article. God bless you!
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written by Gary Ney, August 05, 2011
Larry, I take it you are not Catholic, or aleast a faithful Catholic. How else can you say "a contraceptive that prevents the fertilization of the egg is permissible." That is play God, the natural sexual act will fertilize the egg if an outside force does not come into play, it is God's plan for the egg to fertilize the egg when sperm comes into contact with it. Secondly, yes the article is about fornication, but the explosion of the types of relationships the article describes is the result of contraception, meaning sex outside of marriage, which has made marriage a secondary choice for many.
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written by debby, August 07, 2011
i know this is a late comment.....
maybe NFs in our culture come from sex-ed in schools. we groom our children to masturbate starting at 10 yrs old (in NJ public schools part of the mandatory 5th grade "health" class) and continue down the sewer from there. did you mention or will you be covering the "point" that NFs consider sexual expression in your early adulthood part of growing up and "preparing yourself" for marriage? i just happened to watch the movie "The Notebook" last night and then read this article. amazing coincidence! as much as the movie was heart-string-pulling, it was so secular in it's presentation of deep committed love. but what a "Nice NF movie!"
thank you, Anthony. looking forward to more from you.
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written by Amber, August 08, 2011
Thank you for your forthcoming article. When I was growing up and trying to feel out what I believed and what I should do as a good Christian, the NF point of view was never really addressed. My Christian guidance, despite how much of it I was blessed with, thought as though one were either promiscuous and casual about sex or chaste until marriage.

It was easy for me to reject the promiscuous ethos as wrong, cheap, and against God, yet still be very drawn towards being an NF. None of the arguments and teachings made really seemed to address someone that respected the importance of sex and chose to have sex early.

For example, one of the most effective lines that my youth groups would be regularly told was "It's like cheating on your future spouse." But what about if you fully intended to marry the only person you were NF with? In that case you were faithful with your future spouse.

Having sex with one's own intended seemed to me at the time to be the harmless mischief of opening one's own Christmas presents early; maybe not how thing were supposed to be done, but not anything that could hurt anything else.

How did I, as a young Christian, reconcile that form of premarital sex with the Bible? I reasoned that it was a very different world than the artificial modern culture, in which sexually mature youths would have prolonged periods of exclusive dating and engagement that lasted years before they would graduate (in my case, from college) and then could get married. NF didn't exist as a possibility in an age where people would get married at 13, 15, and so the Bible was speaking to the promiscuous only, I decided. Not to those "already married in their hearts," just waiting to make it official.

Then of course, the predictable-to-anyone-but-me happened; I didn't get married to my lover. It turns out he wasn't so sure we were "already married in our hearts."!

So now as a non-virgin that still wanted to adhere to NF principals, I was cast adrift in a sea of my own making. What did I have left to "save" for anyone, I wondered. Was there any reason now to be even a nice fornicator? I had already blown it with my unknown future spouse.

I tried again with an NF philosophy with the next guy. And was confronted with another moral problem I had created for myself. What if, after having sex in a monogamous relationship, I realized the relationship was a huge mistake and wanted to leave it? First, did that retroactively make the sex wrong? And second, would the leaving itself be as functionally wrong as a divorce?

Such comes from the arrogance of trying to define your own moral path.

As a result, in trying to be a good Christian, still, despite my hypocrisy, I stayed in a quasi-abusive relationship because I had already had sex with the guy. A problem that neither the promiscuous atheist nor the traditionalist Christian would ever find themselves in, so I felt I could go to neither for advice. I isolated myself.

It will be meaningful to me to hear the NF philosophy finally addressed. I hope my two cents about its pitfalls will come in handy.
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written by debby, August 08, 2011
dear amber,
so where are you now? i hope not isolated. there are so many of us who once had "7 demons" but now anoint His feet. you mentioned that you "stayed in a quasi-abusive relationship..."
if you are still there and not married, maybe it's time to leave and get to a good Catholic 12-step program and counseling. if you are married, 12-steps ASAP and a marriage friendly but Orthodox Catholic therapist who can help you set boundaries, get your life back by discovering your dignity in Christ as you are: an adorable precious wounded woman who has more of a claim to the love of Christ than the righteous. God loves without limits. i speak as one who has been and continues to be rescued and loved....there's lots of room for you in the pew next to me. p.s. you might be shocked how many now "traditionalist Christians" would have drowned in the same lake a few years ago if He hadn't come.
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written by Late to the Party, August 10, 2011
One will never read an article by Anthony Esolen that is less than engaging, informative and to the point. There is no one quite like him anywhere. Here he cuts right to the chase and in typical fashion exposes the culture in denial.

Haven't we been trained... moved to the position we are in by our educational system and our media outlets over the decades applying pressure to our weakest moral stanchions? The "if-it-feels-good-do-it" crowd? Love is king, after all, right? (It sounds surprisingly close to something truthful; something about a King being Love...) So it stands to reason "If you love someone, well, it's OK to just do it. Right?" You'd be hard pressed to find 1 in 10 on the street who'd object to that line. Moral deficits, not financial ones, are our trickiest problems today.

In a related theme, for those craving more from this writer, you can find him if you look. Esolen's "Ten Reasons for Sanity" is possibly the best short series of arguments on the hot button subject of marriage you will find anywhere. I recommend it, particularly if you are "uncommitted" or conflicted in such conversations when they arise at the ball field, the gym, or the lunch table at work ( if you work someplace where such conversations can take place without the potential for swift and terrible retribution coming upon the traditional point of view ). He strikes the issue with the same clarity and formidable logic as he does here. A great read.
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written by Javier, November 08, 2011
That's right: we frequently forget the "Rule of Holiness". Then, our moral speach sounds just like a proposal of social decency. And of course, when we forget the "Rule of Holiness", appears the "Rule of Movable Line".
Thanks, Dr. Esolen.
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written by Michelle, February 09, 2014
Beautifully written...very true. Does anyone here believe that pornography, strip clubs, prostitution & sexually explicit programs are also a form of forncation or if used also by a husband a form of adultry? Especially if it has become the replacement of a loyal & loving wife?

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